On a modern dualism

The theory of dualism has been expressed in many forms1, one of which is known as the “modern theory of dualism”, which we describe below:

In nature, beings are mainly concerned with staying alive, feeding and reproducing. In addition to satisfying his needs, man has sought to achieve greater well-being and ask himself what we would call existential questions. Where do we come from? Who put us on this lump of rock lost in the icy vastness of space without asking us first? Were we designed to be a superior being? What happens after our apparently inevitable disappearance? Down through the centuries, man has constantly built up theories based on philosophical doctrines, religious beliefs and mathematical formulae. He has wanted to “know”, without realizing that, the more he appears to know of things, the more inaccessible the truth becomes. We must agree that all this effort has been in vain and that we remain without answers.

The modern theory of dualism does not pretend to provide an answer to all these problems. It simply aims to put forward a theory that it considers to be more plausible than the others, to show that the world operates in an extremely simple way and to work out an appropriate form of behaviour in order to fit into life in the least damaging way possible.

In reading this text we are unconsciously practising dualism, as we can only read if the characters are printed in contrast to their background. A text written in black letters on a black background would be totally illegible. All information must be transferred in such a way that there is a strong contrast between the medium we use and the message we transfer. Like Monsieur Jourdain who wrote prose without realising, we constantly practise dualism without being aware of it.2

Dualism is simply the obvious fact that we can only know through contrast. For example, good cannot be defined without evil, happiness without unhappiness and other pairs of opposites. Extremes can only exist together. Their existence cannot be admitted without their opposite. An object only exists through its relationship with other objects, otherwise it is nothing.3

Pairs of opposites are simply two things placed side by side. The link between them is indestructible. Their originality lies in the fact that they are complementary and indissociable, but also in permanent conflict. One cannot do without the other, yet they both seek to destroy each other without ever really managing it. If one of them could be isolated, it would be lifeless, as it takes its substance from the possibility of creating ties with the very thing that, paradoxically, seeks its death. Divorce is not possible. Nor is it a “ménage à trois”. They are sufficient to each other without the need to bring in a third entity to keep them together. For us, who only have the ability to distinguish, it’s one OR the other. In fact, it’s also one AND the other, at the same time. And here we are hindered by our discursive reasoning. Because we can only record events successively, we are unable to accept that an object could be both black and white. And yet the Chinese Tao philosophy had clearly understood that Yin and Yang could be both separate and combined.4 The global exists in the same way as the individual. We will return to this important point.

That forms a summary of fundamental dualism which bases the possibility of knowledge solely on the pairing of opposites and its originality.

While the dualist theory has had many followers throughout the history of humanity5, it has also come up against many objections. We live in an era dominated by monotheistic religions. The idea is rooted in us that there is a single creative principle. If God exists, who created him? This requires another entity, ad infinitum. Some philosophies also uphold the idea of an original “One”.

This is monism. This may also be found in science, where some scientists desperately attempt to establish a single equation to explain how the universe works. Where would it come from? The nihilists believe that there is nothing and that the world is an illusion. But an illusion of what? The sequence of questions and answers is linear and can only lead via an endless process to nothing. We reach deadlock, an aporia.

What about dualism and its pairs of opposites? Here, the outcome is different. It offers a logical circle – a diallel – because, as we have said, one is explained by the other. There is a sort of self-generation. A thing is bound to its opposite which produces it. Although opposites exist together, they feed each other. We will see later on what we can deduce from this eternal cycle. Let us first demonstrate dualism through something that is completely changing our way of life: the invasive intrusion of digital technology. Let us remind ourselves of the key features. We know that we can use a signal to activate a transistor. The current passes or it doesn’t. It’s YES or NO or, in an abstract form, 0 or 1. It’s a totally dualist choice because 0 and 1 are opposites and are linked together.

Let’s take the example of a chess-board to explain all the possibilities. On a chess-board there are 8 rows of 8 squares, i.e. a total of 64. If we decide that a square can be either black or white, in a row of 8 squares the first may be associated with its neighbour, which may also be black or white. That makes 4 possible combinations. That gives 28 combinations of black and white squares for the row. Given that there are 8 rows, that gives 264 possibilities, which is an enormous number: 20 billion billion combinations.

It is obviously not possible to count the number of notable, detectable events that may occur in the universe, but it is almost certain that we can identify them all with a chain of 0s and 1s as long as with 2n combinations, if is big enough. With this purely dualist procedure, everything, absolutely everything, can be expressed by a series of 0s and 1s. We cannot reach infinity but the simple fact of coming close to it allows us to assert that everything is sayable. This is one-dimensional. To go even further, we can identify a point on a sphere by an intersection on the great circle passing through this point and the two poles. We measure 0, for example, for the upper pole and 1 for the lower pole. We can then define any point on the sphere by 0 or 1, depending on the point on the sphere’s propensity to tip towards 0 or 1. As there is an infinite number of points on a sphere, this provides an absolutely vast number of combinations. Unfortunately, if we want to measure this point, it dissolves into 0 or 1 depending on the weight of probability of obtaining 0 or 1. But there remains the incredible quantity of 0 or 1 to identify anything.6

If there is an equal chance of going towards 0 or 1, we say that the information contained in this 50-50 possibility is “1 bit”. The quantity of information is, in a way, based on an algorithmic dichotomy. A megabit (a million bits) is worth approximately 220. The point on the sphere is known as a “qubit”.7

How can we say that dualism is not fundamental? The basic pair of opposites is “being/non-being”. These two extremes may become “superimposed”, to use the expression adopted in quantum physics. This is a state in which we are incapable of understanding, as the world we live in is based on this separation between being and non-being. We cannot envisage the possibility of a door being both open and closed. But the world of the invisible works well with the AND connection. The link between being and non-being is the probable, i.e. the fact of simultaneously possessing two contradictory tendencies to dissolve into each other depending on a determined weight. Between 0 (the impossible) and 1 (the certain) there is an infinite number of possibilities, each of them with a greater or lesser propensity to be realized as 0 or 1. This then becomes clear and visible to us, the observers.

Through the channel of probability there is an intimate interpenetration between “existing” and “not existing”. It is indeterminate, contingent, virtual, possible, vague… Out of it comes an array or spectrum of what will be selected, sorted, stored by the filter or prism of the cerebral capacity of more or less sophisticated beings who are only capable of appreciating differences.


“Being” is explained in many ways according to Aristotle, but only through pairs of opposites, by powers of two, i.e. 2, 4, etc. Once we have defined something, we need to consider its opposite. This assumes a superimposition of pairings that intersect and interweave with each other. This is why there is plurality and diversity.

The raison d’être of “non-being” cannot be said because, by saying it, it would no longer be “non-being”. It is unique in its nullity. The notion of nothingness is, essentially, to accept nothing, otherwise it loses its status. It is impossible to evaluate. It would need a nil yardstick to measure it, which is impossible. It contains within it all the potentialities that could be expressed as weighted probabilities of “being” and “non-being” in order to move from the imprecise, elusive virtual to the comprehensible real.

What is there between the inaccessible nothing and what is conceivable? When something is done, it is 1, the certain. 0 is the impossible. Between 0 and 1 lies uncertainty, indecision and probability. We need to bring them together to symbolize, through their concatenation, all that may be expressed.

What is most important is the dual “being / non-being” superimposition that is expressed by probabilities whose weight tips the scales in favour of one or the other of these alternatives and knocks on the door of what is considered to be real. This is the domain of distinction, of difference, of OR. Below this is the unknown, the incomprehensible, the fusional, the “both”, which escapes us completely. We cannot even consider that an object may be black or white. It’s not a question of a mix, a grey, but of being intrinsically interpenetrated, being impregnated with each other to the extent that it’s not possible to distinguish between black and white. If we want to assess and know the probability of being one or the other, then it all dissolves into black and white according to the probability of occurrence. This invisible world seems very strange to us but it is the generator of the world in which we operate, with our fabricated concepts of time, space and energy.8 There is a state that separates into opposites and an indefinable, indeterminate third-state from which these opposites come.

All of this ends in a loop in which there is no beginning or end.

As Montaigne said: “To judge of the appearances that we receive of subjects, we ought to have a judicatory instrument; to prove this instrument, we must have demonstration; to verify this demonstration, an instrument: and here we are upon the wheel”.9 The snake bites its tail but, in doing so, regenerates itself by feeding off its tail, which is then reconstructed. This could go on indefinitely with no need for any outside contribution. That’s how things would work in a perfect world. Dualism is unquestionably justified, and for this, neither One nor Three are required. It’s total autonomy, autarky and self-sufficiency.

Dualism is the perfect demonstration that the universe is the playground of two opposite, complementary forces: one that seeks to unite and assemble, like gravity – a thrust towards the cosmos and order – and another that separates, scatters and disperses, which we could call expansion, chaos or disorder. It’s the interpenetrating world of both the AND and the OR. It all naturally tries to seek the right balance through compensation. Why does the orchestra need a conductor? The score is extremely simple. It contains only pairs of interdependent opposites and is played in a single way: identity-contradiction.

There is no need for existential questions because a question requires an answer that poses another question, etc., ad infinitum. Nature is what it is. Is it dualistic? We have tried to show that it is. Why is it? And here we fall into the pointless and infinite game of questions and answers. That’s how it is – no more, no less.


The world is a superimposition of “yes and no” pairs. There’s no doubt about it. What could be simpler?

Can we use this theory to construct a way of behaving, a set of ethics? Dualism may also have the disadvantage of leading to extremes. Should we burn the candle at both ends? Or be like Diogenes, throwing away his bowl after having seen the children drink with their hands? There’s certainly no categorical imperative. Everyone has to cope with a set of circumstances in which choice leaves very little room for a debatable freedom. We can shape our destiny, but only to a certain extent. There is certainly a middle way that we call the “cult of moderation”. This attitude is beneficial not only for us, our health and our life span, but also for the community of which we are a part. Humanity itself, which is in the process of self-destructing, would benefit from a more sober approach. This would reduce the pollution caused by our transport machine in an obviously hostile universe. By not consuming to excess, reducing our needs and avoiding conflict, we may not change our human condition but we may find it easier to accept it.


Notes and references :

  1. The most ancient form, which may go back thousands of years, is the Chinese Tao theory, Yin and Yang.
  2. Of our options for expressing ourselves, the written word is a perfect illustration of the duality between being and non-being. With only thirty dark-coloured characters, being is expressed in many ways. These characters stand out against a light-coloured background which represents the non-existence on which existence shows through.
  3. “Things derive their being and nature from mutual dependence and are nothing in themselves.” Nagarjuna, a Buddhist monk from the 2nd Century AD.
  4. The well-known Tao symbol contains two comma shapes, one black and one white, Yin and Yang, which fit together inside a circle. Each comma contains a sort of eye of an opposite colour. This perfectly expresses the fact that Yin and Yang are merged into a pair and interpenetrate each other. The circle represents circular reasoning that goes round and round eternally, with no beginning or end.
  5. The various forms of dualism are perfectly identified in the Wikipedia article “Dualism (philosophy)”.
  6. The astrophysicist John Wheeler superbly expressed the huge possibilities of information in the phrase “It from bit”, meaning “Everything is information”.
  7. This is the principle of the quantum computer.
  8. These concepts are simply a way of finding our way in a world that we can only understand through opposites.
  9. Montaigne: Essays. The “wheel” is a good illustration of circular reasoning that never comes to an end.


Bibliography :

  • Tao Tö King – Lao Tseu
  • Le dualisme dans l’histoire de la philosophie et des religions. Introduction à l’étude du dualisme platonicien, du gnosticisme et du manichéisme – Simone Pétrement – Gallimard 1946
  • Fundamental Verses of the Middle Way – Nagarjuna
  • Fragments – Heraclitus
  • The marriage of Heaven and Hell – William Blake
  • The laws of thought – George Boole
  • Rechnung mit eins und null (Calculating with 1 and 0) – Leibniz
  • La dimension invisible – Thierry Breton – Seuil 1994


See also

External links

  • Encyclopédie de l’Agora (http://agora.qc.ca/dossiers/Dualisme)
  • com (http://www.dualisme.com)
  • Dualism on Wikipedia


Taken from “https://fr.wikiversity.org/w/index.php?title=Dualisme&oldid=492271”

Categories: Lessons for the day from the Modern Philosophy Department    Lessons for the day level 14

  • This page last modified on 1 July 2015 at 6.35 pm.
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